Board readies for boundary vote

SNOQUALMIE - A group of Snoqualmie parents are hoping the Snoqualmie Valley School District will give consideration to a plan they have put together to keep their children at Snoqualmie Middle School (SMS).

On May 13, the board of directors for the district will vote on a school boundary change proposal that would send middle-school-age children from the Snoqualmie Ridge neighborhood to Chief Kanim Middle School (CKMS) in Fall City starting this fall. The district presented the plan earlier this year as a way to ease student overcrowding at SMS, which is already over capacity while there are empty spaces at CKMS.

Parents from the Snoqualmie Ridge neighborhood, taken aback by what they said was the suddenness of the proposal and the lack of time they had to respond to it, have fought the boundary change and organized a committee to come up with an alternative plan. The board agreed to hear the alternative and delayed its original vote date to this week.

"We want them [the board] to approve our proposal," said Jan Calvert, one of the parents on the committee. "Our proposal is professional and factual."

Under the parents' plan, children from the Snoqualmie Ridge neighborhood would continue to go to SMS this coming school year. In 2005, portables from Snoqualmie Elementary School (SES) would be added to the SMS campus, to handle overcrowding. This would buy some time until a middle school the district plans to build east of North Bend in 2007 is completed. Once that middle school is built, some of the pressure on SMS would be taken off with North Bend children heading to the new school.

The parents said the plan makes sense for many reasons. It helps keep Snoqualmie as one community, a relationship that has been strained at times by perceptions that Snoqualmie Ridge residents are disconnected from their historic Snoqualmie neighbors.

Another is keeping children together with their playmates. Under the district's plan, children from the Snoqualmie Ridge neighborhood would be allowed to transfer to SMS once the new North Bend middle school is built if spaces are available. The parents said the scene for getting their children into SMS would be a zoo. If their children were allowed to be at SMS in the first place, parents said there wouldn't be any split in the neighborhood, with one child going to CKMS and another going to SMS.

Parents also say they are not asking for any additional expenditures and that placing the portables at SMS is the most responsible way to spend district money. Prior to the Snoqualmie Ridge neighborhood being built, an agreement between the neighborhood's developer (then called Weyerhaeuser Real Estate Co. and now called Quadrant Corp.) and the school district was approved that gave the district money to handle the impact of new children brought by the development. Since that money was collected to handle students from the development's impact on SMS, Ridge parents said the money should go toward making more room at SMS.

The parents stressed that the plan has nothing to do with the quality of life or educational caliber of any school or city in the Valley. Since they are rallying hard for their children to go to school at SMS, the parents said there may be a perception that they have a problem with CKMS or Fall City, but that is not true. Test scores between CKMS and SMS are similar and the parents have remarked how much they enjoy Fall City.

What the parents want is their plan to be considered. With only one proposal submitted to the board by the district, the parents believe there has to be another way to keep their children going to school in Snoqualmie and they think they have that answer.

"This has nothing to do with one school or town," said Max Gibbs, one of the parents on the committee. "If I get down the parkway [Snoqualmie Parkway] and have to turn left instead of right, it is not a big deal. This is about the process."

District Superintendent Rich McCullough said, however, that the recommendation the proposal is giving the board to vote on this week is the most prudent way to handle the resources and children entrusted to the school district. Since there is no more room at SMS and there's room not being used at CKMS, the answer is clear.

"I hate to sound simplistic but the solution is at Chief Kanim and the problem is at Snoqualmie," McCullough said.

McCullough said that although the district has received flack for giving the board only one option to vote on for alleviating the overcrowding problem, he said the board doesn't want to be presented with multiple options and be asked to sift through the merits of each one. He said the board has always operated as a lay group of citizens who consider the best recommendation from the district.

"We gave them the best [proposal]," McCullough said.

The mitigation agreement with Quadrant was also written in a way that gives the school district money to deal with the Snoqualmie Ridge neighborhood's impact to the whole district, not just Snoqualmie, McCullough said.

McCullough said school boundary changes are never comfortable for anybody, but are a necessary means to spend money wisely and assure good education to all the district's students. He said when CKMS opened and parents from parts of North Bend found out their children would be bused all the way across the Valley to go there, feelings against the school boundary change were just as passionate as those of the Snoqualmie Ridge parents now.

There is more in store as well. With a new elementary school set to open in 2005 in the Snoqualmie Ridge neighborhood, and a new middle school slated to open two years later, the district will be redrawing boundary lines that will cause some students to go to a school they had not planned on.

"How can we make everyone happy when someone changes schools?" McCullough said.

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